By @Connectvj –Interview with Mohit Bhakuni, Founder and CEO at Contify
We interviewed him to know in-depth about him & Contify. This is the 12th Interview of our Startup Showcase Series.
Contify is a market intelligence platform based on text analytics & machine learning. It collects unique information on your customers, competitors, suppliers and also trending topics in your industry from not only from public sources like news sites or social media like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, but also from deep web mining from inside pages of company websites, job portals, tenders, government and regulators website.
The information is about things like new product launches, management changes, funding activities, business expansions, acquisitions, partnerships, events sponsored/participated in, and awards/recognition among several other business signals.
Explain your professional background briefly what lead you to build the company and how did you come up with the idea
I graduated from IIT Delhi in 2000 and moved to the US. My first job was with Deloitte where I worked as consultant till 2004. I then enrolled for the MBA programme at INSEAD. After graduating, I immediately came back to India and ran the Internet businesses of The Indian Express and content licensing business of Hindustan Times from 2005 to 2009. I founded Contify in 2009
The first year in the US was great. It was a new culture and I was enjoying the experience. Then in 2001, the World Trade Center collapsed right in front of my eyes. It was a greatly unsettling event which internalized in me that life is short and I should do things that I believe in.
Looking back, I think that was the trigger which led me to Contify. I continued working with Deloitte for a few more years and used all my saving to enroll for an MBA at INSEAD in 2005. I didn’t take any education loan because I had to return to India after the MBA.
After graduating, I had a couple of good offers in hand but I wanted a role where I could get a first-hand experience of running a business. I jumped on the opportunity of running the internet division of The Indian Express. From there I moved to Hindustan Times and by 2009, I had the experience that I needed to launch a business. That’s when Contify was born.
One of the common problems with the internet was that there was too much information about everything – ‘information overload’. There was no intelligent way to find information or track the topics that are important for me. The right information is usually buried under the ocean of irrelevant and duplicate information, scattered all over the internet. But I didn’t start a company based on this idea. I kept on looking for ways to make a business out of this problem.
While working with newspapers, I found that besides ads, there is another revenue model around content. That is licensing content to other information products. I knew businesses subscribe to various information products and pay a heavy subscription fee for accessing the aggregated information.
We decided to make an information product that can help businesses make sense of all the scattered information on internet. That was the genesis of Contify. We got to work and launched the first version of the product in 2012. It was an intelligent industry news tracking. Since then the product has evolved to track deep information about companies. Contify became one of the most advanced Market Intelligence platform for business all around the world.
Who are your ideal customers and what difference are you creating for them?
We have three product lines that address different pain points for different customers:
Contify MI Standard: Ideal for businesses that have a finite set of competitors and customers to track. Users can create a free account directly from Contify, add companies to a track, and that’s it. Contify starts aggregating intelligence on these companies.
All the aggregate information is accessible via an intuitive web interface – Contify News feed and also through daily digest intelligence alerts. There are various use cases of Contify Standard. Marketing teams track their competitors’ marketing activities — events participation, product announcements, new blog posts, whitepapers, info-graphics, changes in product FAQ pages, product review websites, presentation decks, etc.
Sales teams get sales signals about their prospects, key customers — new office opening, executive changes, business expansion, fundraising, M&A, and more. And senior management get their daily digest intelligence alerts with updates on their competitors, industry and other important activities that they would like to track in their market landscape.
Contify MI Enterprise: Large companies track their markets in a more structured manner. Apart from competitors and customers, they also track their suppliers, partners, regulators, and industries. Further, most enterprise customers have a unique way of defining their market, and usually develop a custom market intelligence program that is unique to their intelligence needs.
E.g. a large enterprise have different business segments and they compete with other enterprise companies only in specific business segments, not in all segments. E.g. they don’t compete in the same segment in all geographies. Sometimes the segments are also defined differently. E.g. a consulting firm could define their risk advisory services differently from their closest competitor.
That is, each provide different set of services under “risk advisory”. To address this, our enterprise platform is completely customization. It has a custom taxonomy builder which allows our clients to align their market intelligence with their business structure. It also includes a custom sourcing manager (to integrate their unique intelligence sources), newsletter builder (to create and send custom branded intelligence briefings for different teams and functions), dashboards (to generate presentation ready intelligence reports) and admin privileges (to control user permissions). We make it extremely simple for enterprise customers to aggregate, organize and distribute market intelligence.
News Data Feed API: There are many different kinds of use-cases of Contify APIs. Some of the prominent use-cases are:
Enterprises that have already built a custom market intelligence or knowledge management portal. We integrate aggregated and clean market intelligence directly with the intranet portal, KMS, CRM, or any other knowledge tool using Contify APIs.
Software/ information products: Products that provide information on companies such as sales leads or company research, etc. integrates intelligence from Contify using APIs to build new features or improve their product usage. Because of exceptional data quality, some of Contify’s competitors also use Contify APIs to integrate the intelligence from internet.
B2B/ Industry/ Trade Associations websites: Industry or company news websites provide related news and updates from other websites.
What sets you apart from the competition?
There are two key components that differentiate Contify market intelligence solution from the competition:
Customization: Information can be noise or intelligence depending on the user. A competitor’s new blog post is noise for the sales rep but intelligence for the marketing team. Similarly, a prospect’s tweet supporting the soccer team Real Madrid can be used like a scalpel in the meeting by a sales executive but to a marketing manager, it’s irrelevant noise. Contify, by design, has been built for such personalized intelligence gathering and distribution. Information is aggregated in one place and categorized based on custom taxonomy builder so that end users get personalized intelligence.
Hybrid intelligence engine: Technology can aggregate information, but not intelligence. 100% automated aggregation of personalized intelligence is a pipe dream. We have built a hybrid intelligence engine that combines technologies like machine learning and text analytics with human curation to deliver accurate and personalized intelligence. Contify has won the Frost & Sullivan Product Innovation award for this platform. Here are the salient features of this engine:
Scraper maintenance – Tracking websites requires writing custom scrapers and maintaining them. Our proprietary process for maintaining scrapers ensures that you never have to worry about broken links again.
Deduplication – The Internet is brimming with duplicate information just repackaged with different words. Important business updates are covered by most publication. Our deduplication algorithm clusters all the duplicate and similar updates and delivers the unique one – the most important one.
Disambiguation – A lot of companies have names as common English words. E.g. how to differentiate between stories with the word gap and the company GAP. Our intelligence platform takes care of this and many similar problems.
Contextual tagging – Technology works well for objective tags like brand, location, industry, etc. But when it comes to contextual tags like company strategy, competitive landscape, etc., we leverage manual human intervention.
With such a unique concept, what challenges do you face within the market and the company?
The flip side of being innovative and unique is that the customer doesn’t have a category or a budget for your offering. Almost everyone we’ve met does market intelligence in some form or the other. Within a company, different departments collect market intelligence but it is usually done in an unstructured and ad hoc manner. The #1 challenge we face is educating users that there’s a solution, which is better and efficient way of gathering and delivering market intelligence.
This is very similar to what HubSpot did a decade back. Companies were doing inbound in some form or the other. But no one called it inbound and there was no playbook. HubSpot came along and educated marketers that there’s a better way to run marketing and that’s inbound.
How can companies use market intelligence to better understand their customers?
Whether you are a small company with a handful of a customer or a large enterprise with 1000s, it’s a fact that acquiring new customers is far more expensive than retaining existing one. Businesses use Contify to stay on top of their key customers’ financial health, their new initiatives, and their current challenges. Business with sophisticated MI programs track not only their key customers, but also their customers’ competitors and important industry developments.
When the key accounts manager engages with customers armed with this knowledge, they are recognized as thought leaders and industry experts. In addition, market intelligence on customers uncovers up sell opportunities.
If I am not mistaken, the company turned 9 this year. How much has it changed since you started off?
A lot and not much! Over the years, we’ve transitioned from general industry news to competitive intelligence and then to holistic market intelligence platform. But the basic premise – managing unstructured information scattered all over the internet, surfacing actionable information, minimizing noise – has been the same. We have invested many years in building, refining and scaling our core market intelligence platform – the engine that ingests information from the Internet and returns intelligence from the other end.
Last year, we added something significant. We thought, what if everyone had access to intelligence and not just companies using our platform? What if companies could build new features and products with personalized intelligence at the heart of their offerings? What if we could help build market intelligent companies? We decided to open up our platform by launching Contify APIs. Today, any company can simply plug-in intelligence into their internal tools or use the raw data for analytics to surface insights. With our API we’re trying to democratizing market intelligence.
Tell us about any forthcoming developments in the pipeline
In the recent months, we’ve received several queries from the Product Marketers for market intelligence. Unlike general marketers, product marketers work on a specific marketing problem. They’re responsible for positioning, messaging, go-to-market, and content.
A core part of this job is to continually optimize the messaging and design to increase conversions from traffic to trials to customers. To do this, product marketers, frequently look at their competitors website (for changes in positioning, copy, design) and also news mentions (to spot any strategic announcement). But the process is unstructured and ad hoc.
They need to visit each competitors website and there’s no mechanism to alert that a competitor has updated something. We’re very excited to be working on a solution to address these pain points. Very soon, we’ll be launching a private beta of Contify’s MI solution for product marketers.
What is Contify’s ultimate vision?
We want to make the external data, the data from outside the walls of offices, to be easily accessible to business so that they can take better decisions. We want to build a world-class product company from India that has a positive impact on our society by helping businesses take better informed decisions.
What advice would you like to give the entrepreneurs who are planning to launch their own venture?
To do justice to this question, I will need to write a book. However, I’ll briefly touch upon a few points here, about building products from India in the B2B space.
Avoid reading about start-ups and successful entrepreneurs. Be very skeptical when you read from journalists about startups. Just absorb hard facts and ignore rest. It is sad that most people who write about start-up and celebrate entrepreneurship have poor filters to separate real stuff from fabricated stories. There are usually several layers of insights behind a start-up success or failure. The closest to the real story can be found by talking to the founders or the people who have been there.
Ask for help. Reach out to people who you think can help even when you think that you’re bothering them. Let them tell you this to you on your face, don’t assume.
Good entrepreneurs are not with better ideas, but with a better way to validate their idea. Usually, no idea is good or bad in absolute terms. It is all relative to your core strengths and resources. Uber is a terrible idea for those who cannot raise $21.1B. But if you can raise, then it is a great idea. Sales force is not the best CRM but if you know how to sell to enterprise customers, you don’t need the best product. The variables and drivers of success are different in each market segments.
Talking to potential customers/ users and experienced professionals will not give direct answers. It will add to the confusion and will be discouraging because experience and experts will tell you that it will be too difficult or outright impossible. There will be no direct or right or wrong answers. Still, there is no better alternative to evaluate the idea than to trying to understand it from potential customers.
Beware of false positives. When you sign your initial customers, it will be tempting to conclude that you’ve found the product market fit. Don’t do that. A good indicator of product-market fit is consistent growth in new customers.
Most important. Don’t be in a hurry to reach some glorified end goal. It is a journey that will transform you and other passionate team members. Transform to better, more mindful, efficient, mature individuals with holistic perspective about everything around you. It is a beautiful transformation that can be achieved through an honest entrepreneurial journey. Understanding this transformation and aspiring to be transformed will make this journey enjoyable, but aspiring to become a celebrated entrepreneur in media will lead to misery.
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